I’ve been intrigued by true crime since the publication of In Cold Blood in 1966. I’ve watched the genre evolve from its beginnings in books about the crimes (sensational, usually gory), the criminal (usually gruesome), and the cops that investigate the crimes and catch (or don’t) the criminals. True Crime Addict, by James Renner, belongs in the latest evolution of the genre: books about followers and fans of true crime and true crime reporting. In other words, meta true crime.
Several of these interesting books have appeared lately: I‘ll Be Gone in the Dark, Chase Darkness with Me, And Every Word Is True, Savage Appetites, The Real Lolita,). I’ve written or will be writing about several of them here. If you’ve noticed another book that falls into this category, please let me know. Always glad to have your comments on books, reading, and writing about reading.
True Crime Addict, by James Renner
Maura Murray disappeared in 2004 and–despite searches by police, the Murray family, and intrigued internet true-crime fans–has never been found. (Or if the family has found her, they’re not saying.) James Renner is one of the “true crime addicts” who have pursued her story with relentless determination. This memoir is about his pursuit.
Renner calls himself a “gonzo journalist,” and it helps if you know what that is: a journalist (like author/journalist Hunter Thompson) who makes her/himself a subject of the reporting and whose style includes wry, self-castigating humor, a pervasive sense of irony, and plenty of profanity. Renner’s book is both about Maura Murray (a woman with a big load of emotional baggage, unhappiness with her life choices and perhaps including an incestuous relationship with her father), about Murray’s disappearance, and about himself (a man with a big load of baggage, an anger-management problem, and a drinking/drugging habit).
The book highlights the problems of finding truth in multiple stories, the uncomfortable ethical issues of writing truthfully about real (and still living) people, and the very real dangers of internet sourcing–and stalkers. The ethical issues are crucial and never resolved, which becomes especially clear in the epilogue, when Renner reports new allegations against a man who has been already cleared, allegations that have nothing to do with the crime. If Renner is aware of the serious ethical questions his work (and the genre) is raising, he gives no hint of it.
And don’t look for a true picture of the “real” author/narrator here–that’s another story. What we get is a pretty fair picture of the gonzo journalist at work. Gonzos make the point that it’s impossible to tell the truth, and that the best you can do is tell all sides of a story. Renner does that, and then some. As a self-reflexive depiction of true-crime research and writing, True Crime Addict is interesting, instructive, and even (in a macabre, head-shaking sort of way) entertaining. As meta true crime, the ethical issues it raises are also deeply disturbing.